Published Nov 22, 2009When thrash metal ― the bastard child of hardcore punk rock's aggression blended with the aesthetics and advanced musicianship of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal ― was forming in the early 1980s, there were few bands making waves. Of those, only four, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, seemed to prevail and to drastically different degrees. While Metallica has gone on to become one of modern rock's biggest bands ever, Anthrax still seem mired in personnel difficulties and a generally forgotten, underdog status. Toronto-bred quartet Sacrifice knows this all too well. Forming in 1984 and quickly establishing their own uncompromisingly aggressive sound, they were part of a miniscule contingent of Canadian bands representing this metallic offshoot on an international level. Over the course of eight years and four albums ― 1985's Torment In Fire, 1987's Forward To Termination, 1991's Soldiers Of Misfortune and 1993's Apocalypse Inside ― their profile grew, a deal with major independent Metal Blade Records ensued and all seemed perfect for the thrashers from the Great White North.
Without warning though, Sacrifice unceremoniously broke up just after Apocalypse Inside's release. While never truly giving an explanation for their disbanding, Sacrifice ― singer/guitarist Rob Urbinati, guitarist Joe Rico, bassist Scott Watts and drummer Gus Pynn ― left behind an impeccable catalogue of music that continued to garner fans around the world and eventually prompted re-releases in the early portion of this decade.
Those reissues only fuelled the fire. After over a decade of inactivity, fans new and old were desperate to see Sacrifice live once again. After agreeing to perform a one-off show in Toronto circa 2006 (one that quickly sold out and brought in fans from across the globe), the original line-up decided to give writing a shot. Three years ― or is it 16? ― later, Sacrifice issues their fifth full-length effort The Ones I Condemn (Sonic Unyon). As if no time has passed, the album picks up where its predecessors left off: raging, unyielding thrash metal that as Urbinati declares, "should make you want to rip your steering wheel off and through it out the window." He recently spoke with Exclaim! about the band's surprising reunion, expectations around The Ones I Condemn and future plans.
Congratulations on finally getting out that fifth album. There's been a lot of talk about how you've been adamant about any new music being consistent with your legacy.
Rob Urbinati: Yeah. When we actually decided...well, we didn't really decide to [record]. We decided to try writing some songs. Some of the criteria we laid down was that it had to sound like Sacrifice without a doubt and it had to be better than you'd expect that we'd do. We felt like we met that so here's the new album.
I'm guessing you've heard so many bands reunite and it sucks ― they ruin their legacy ― that you're intent on avoiding such a situation?
That's the whole thing. When we decided to write some songs, that's why we set that expectation for ourselves. There are so many bands from our era that come out and release sub-par stuff. They're just going through the motions, not really into it crap. We didn't want to release something like that. Our heart is in this. We're not just doing it because. We're having fun with it and I feel like it shows. It's not really up to me to decide though.
It shows you're doing it for personal reasons. Not just on the record but also because you're not going into a massive tour and trying to re-ignite something. You're only agreeing to specific things.
We're not looking to make this our career now. We don't have any big world tour planned or anything. We're solely doing this because we want to. It's fun and we're obviously not gonna get rich from this. It's just purely because our heart really is in the right place with this. That's about as concise as I can say it.
Does it alleviate some pressure when you can approach being in a band without those hopes of world domination?
Oh yeah. I always say it feels like when we did our first or second album: it's fun, there's no pressure whatsoever. We're just getting together. We grew up together; got the band together at 16 or 17. We went through some of the best years of our lives together. There was a lot of good and bad. Now, here we are in our 40s and it's a chance to get together and play live. We have a good time with it.
At one point, you seemed on the verge of breaking internationally but it never happened, other than some legions here and there. You've got die-hard fans that include members of Arch Enemy, Napalm Death and Municipal Waste ― bands who are influenced by you but are doing better than you. People always bemoan about woulda, shoulda, coulda on your behalf. Still, you never hold grudges about not getting your due.
We were pretty young when we got together. Our goal was to play at Larry's Hideaway or something. That's it. The music we were playing didn't allow us to dream big. When we started, there weren't many bands playing as heavy as we were, especially in Canada, save a couple. So we couldn't really dream to be Van Halen or anything. Even Metallica, I remember getting Kill 'Em All and it wouldn't even enter your thought process that they would be this huge. Or Slayer. I had no idea that in 2009, they'd be commanding so much per show and selling gold every time they put out an album.
So, seeing how things turned out for bands like that, how do you not hold a grudge?
I think we're happy with what we've achieved. A lot of bands that feel that way are ones that people don't really give a crap about what they did, today. People still really like the stuff we did over 20 years ago. That's enough for us, I think.
Once a Sacrifice fan, always a Sacrifice fan where other bands' legions are more fleeting?
It seems that way. Our fans have all been there from day one. We've even got new ones now, too. I meet guys who are 19 and say their dad had a Sacrifice album or something. That's really cool too. It's inspiring to hear new bands speak positively about us. We're playing with Propagandhi and they're big fans of the band. It's great, not even musician-wise. Just talking to people at a show and they say they remember us playing this or that show. It's great to hear and we really appreciate all that stuff.
Why did you stop in the first place?
Basically, at the time thrash was pretty much dead. Aside from us, Forbidden and Slayer, there were no bands playing it anymore. I think in order to survive, some bands started adding alternative elements into their sound and we weren't comfortable doing that. Our forward progress had stopped and, well, people wonder why thrash bands are coming back now. We broke up because people just didn't care anymore. I can write songs at home... if Sacrifice didn't get back together, I'd still be writing songs at home. I think that bands like us, Artillery and whoever are getting back together because people care again. I could still write songs at home but if people care again, why not play them for them too?
Reflecting, you were silent for years and then all of a sudden there was this one-off reunion show in 2006. What prompted that?
[Promoters Inertia Entertainment] approached me and it seemed difficult at the time but we managed. Our re-releases were out and we didn't realize there were that many people excited to get our re-releases and all that stuff. It was really special for us to play that show; one of the best ones we ever played. It was a lot of fun.
Are you surprised that your station continued to grow even though the band was defunct?
Yeah and even after that, a couple of years ago we'd hear about all these new thrash bands coming out and it was an incredible time for the music. I'm sure it'll take a dive again in the future but for the time being, it's a great time for thrash.
When you agreed to do the show, had you thought ahead to record and do more shows or was it really just a one-off?
We were pretty focused on doing that show. It took us a while to get back to the point where we could play the songs where we'd actually want to play them in front of people. We wanted to play that show like it was our last and had no plans beyond it. When we started putting some songs together, it came together really well, really easily. We threw out a lot of good stuff but the songs that worked really fell into place easily.
Knowing you set a high bar for yourselves, how hard was it to organize new material?
It's a lot easier when you have a direction. The problem bands have ― where they fail when they get back together like we did ― is that they want to do something new. They want to add what's going on now to their sounds. Certain bands can do that but others, well, you don't want that. If you want to do that, come out as a different band. If you're coming out as reformed, people what to hear what you do best. This is what we do best and we know what we do best: fast, aggressive and it makes you want to rip your steering wheel off and through it out the window. If it doesn't do that to you, what's the point?
Now that you've passed this mark and released an album that lives up to Sacrifice's expectations, what about the future? Will we continue to hear from you?
We'll have to see. We'll probably write more but once again, if we can't surpass what we've done with this album ― which will be really hard to do ― then we won't put out anything until we can.
So you're coming at it as a music fan first and foremost. You apply that mentality to your own band?
At the end of of the day, I'm just a metal fan. We did the same thing with our re-releases. At the time, you'd get a little two-page insert, it wasn't re-mastered and sounded like crap. You're so disappointed as a fan when that happens, which is why we went all-out with those re-releases. You have to look at it as a fan as well as like a band member.
That said, are there any new influences on this album you didn't expect?
I'm sure something came in subconsciously somewhere but when we decided to do this, we looked at what our influences were when we got together at first. Our biggest influence was Sacrifice. That was a big thing for us, being able to recapture that. I was listening to a lot of stuff I used to listen to back when we first got together so our influences didn't change, really. I'll never forget what helped us get direction. The guy from Marquee [Records, Sacrifice's label outside of Canada] who put it out said that if he read an interview or review of the album, he didn't want to see the words, "new direction" or something like that. It really stuck with me.
You can't argue with him. After what we've talked about, it would have destroyed what you've worked so hard to create if you said something of the sort.
Yeah, I agree with him 100 percent and I don't think there's a Sacrifice fan alive that wouldn't.